Shorts, Mountains and Goals

I’ve been binge listening to the She Explores podcast and you should, too. I surprisingly discovered it recently through the Luna Grey Fiber Arts Instagram account. Episode one hit me like a ton of bricks. I completely related. If something scares you, you should probably do it.

I kept listening and more and more I found myself moving from intimidation to understanding to connection. I continue to find myself comparing my life to the lives of others, always placing myself at a deficit: not good enough, not skilled enough, not experienced enough, not brave enough. But that’s not reality. What is real is that I am adventuring in my own way, in my own time, and my life is not comparable to others, just as others’ are not comparable to mine, or to each other. We are all individuals, mapping our own journeys through life, discovering our inner-most selves and figuring out what makes us tick. I find that I oft surround myself with people who I think push harder than I do — but I realized that maybe I am pushing just as hard. They motivate me to keep going, to make it to the next level. They have more experience and more fitness than I do right now, but that doesn’t make my effort worth less.

Two weekends ago I attempted a climb that I wasn’t sure I was ready for, but I had a distance goal and an emotional goal. Five of us set out to climb the Mt. Whitney Mountaineers Route as part of our training for a trip to the French Alps this summer. I was out of my element and I was nervous; the others had their own goals, which I found more admirable than my own (and part of my goal was to be emotionally comfortable with this variance). To my surprise however, we met someone else with an entirely different goal; someone who upended my entire emotional outlook for this trip.

We met Harrison only meters from Iceberg Lake. He rounded the bend in shorts and tennis shoes with microspikes. We were head-to-toe windproof, waterproof and insulated; just a handful of gear junkies obsessed with every winter gear sale on the internet. Harrison bought his REI shorts second-hand. How was he not cold?

I looked at my friends and said, “he’s going to Canada.”

And Harrison was indeed going to Canada. By foot. In shorts.

We camped together next to the frozen, snow covered lake and I learned a little about Alaskan salmon fishing, and a lot about myself. I don’t know if I’d call the snow hike to Iceberg Lake the hardest physical thing I’ve ever done — maybe yes, maybe no, and maybe it is all relative — but it was hard emotionally and mentally. Very hard. My knee is healing and I’m stronger than I have been in a very long time, but training in the gym or in the comfort of familiar places did not prepare me for the alpine environment. Breathing at 12,000 ft, with no appetite, everything tasting like cardboard, forcing myself to eat and drink and take deep breathes; fighting anxiety, a bout of depression and claustrophobia … it was the same roller coaster I went through on Baldy two weeks ago, minus the extra knee pain and multiplied by a hundred.

I didn’t summit on Sunday morning. I didn’t even make the attempt. My goal was to make it camp, to get comfortable with the environment, and to be comfortable on my own. I almost didn’t make it that far. After our first big ascent on Saturday, I collapsed in the snow next to Lower Boy Scout Lake and lost it. I cried tears of delusion, crashing hard from a lack of calories, gasping to breathe after overexerting myself in the thin air, blubbering on about my wonderful, awful life until the energy chews that were force fed to me took effect. What a nightmare. Now I know what this is all about.

Later that day, as the group was setting up camp, building a snow wall, flattening ground and racing the sun, I sat exhausted, trying to muster up what energy I could to pitch in. It felt like forever before I could move my body, doing my meager share of the work. I managed some duties, warming up as I moved around, very slowly eating dinner, then laying in the tent, chatting, trying to relax. I managed a full twelve hours in the tent without a claustrophobia induced panic attack.

But I was okay. I didn’t summit, and I was okay. Half of our group came back from the notch around noon, the other half returned from the summit about an hour later.

And Harrison. He had attempted the traverse over the ridge and returned late in the morning, shut down by weather and making a smart choice to descend for a reassessment of gear. In our time lounging at camp, while the others made their summit bids, Harrison made a comment to me about reevaluating life … the choices we make; what we do and how and when. I could tell he was less than happy with himself for turning back, but no one can judge him for that choice. We know the right choices for ourselves, and only we can honestly evaluate our goals, and our perceptions of our goals are our own, for us to determine how they fit best into our lives.

I later heard in an episode of She Explores: The only thing that can ruin a hike is your attitude. I needed to reevaluate my own life, my own goals; my attitude. I came home happy with myself for pushing for my own goals. Our goals are our own, independent of others and we are each mapping our own journeys.

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